New booksellers go for the gap

A new chain of bookshops is due to start up soon, with its first stores in the Gauteng area. Shaun de Waal

A NEW bookshop chain is to open in South Africa, run by three former employees of Exclusive Books. To be called Facts & Fiction, it is just getting off the ground, with the first couple of shops due to be launched in Gauteng before the end of the year. It hopes to expand from there.

The three key players are Anthony Ward, onetime retail and marketing manager of the then Literary Group (now renamed Exclusive Books), Tessa Goldsworthy, who has extensive experience with children’s books, and Leonie van Rensburg, who is an expert in adult and Afrikaans literature.

Ward told the Mail & Guardian that he sees a gap in the book retailing market between the up-market Exclusive chain and the mass-market CNA, which tends to sell only the most popular titles.

He said Facts & Fiction’s shops would be “welcoming and approachable”, and would attempt to carry the widest possible range and depth of stock in a “warm, comfortable environment”. He is investigating the idea of keeping the shops open 24 hours a day, and possibly including a small cappuccino bar in each shop so browsers can have a cup of coffee between reading blurbs.

Facts & Fiction will also stock a range of electronic media such as CD-ROM titles. Another facet of the chain could well be the warehouse concept, where overheads are minimised by using warehouse space to stock books. Savings can be passed on to the book-buyer in the form of cheaper

While the new chain is overtly going for the space in the market between Exclusive Books and CNA (both owned by the CNA-Gallo group), it inevitably will mean competition for Exclusive Books, hitherto the dominant player in the book retail market. Ward hopes to find areas not served by existing bookshops and “open up” the book market.

Fred Withers, the recently appointed MD of Exclusive Books, said he saw the new chain as “normal competitive activity” and said “we have no problem with it. We wish Anthony Ward well, and it may well make us, as the cliche goes, sharpen our pencils.”

Reaction from publishers has been positive. John Allen of Penguin told the M&G: “We’re absolutely delighted to see another player entering the retail industry. In many respects it is long overdue, and it bodes well for the future of the book.”

Jonathan Ball of HarperCollins and Jonathan Ball Publishers said that he welcomed the “arrival of new blood in the form of Anthony Ward and his colleagues, which doesn’t diminish the support we would continue to give our exisiting customers”. He noted that the book industry is “no longer a Mom-and-Pop business, it’s very capital-intensive” and hoped that Facts & Fiction would “find themselves a niche in the marketplace”.

Nicholas Combrinck of William Waterman Publishers, in his capacity as chairman of the general interest group of the Publishers’ Association of South Africa, said: “We fully support competition — everyone can benefit. I believe there are untapped book markets out there.”

Random House’s Stephen Johnson said: “As far as Random House is concerned, I’m of the opinion that any venture to establish new bookshops is going to increase the size of the reading market in South Africa. We welcome all such

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